Army Men

 General, History

A Cold War staple for those of us growing up between the 1960s and 1980s, they usually came in bags of a hundred or so (from the Hong Kong plastic toy companies) or from the model companies in small boxes, ready to paint for the modellers (they usually got mixed together for battle). Then there were the Dinky Toys and Corgi series of vehicles, robust tanks made of metal and not plastic. One cannot forget the Marx action sets of the 1950s and 1960s, though they were dying out by the mid-1970s. Everything was out of scale and nobody cared because it was fun in the sand. Of course, there were all those hippie teachers in the anti-Vietnam late 1960s and early 1970s who banned ‘war toys’ from class/school, so we had to smuggle ours into the school yard sandboxes.

As for bringing in the Mattell look-alike AR-15s, the ones that made firing noises and had a bolt that pulled back like a real assault rifle, fuggedaboutit. As my mom said, even when you ban toy guns, boys will always stick their thumb up, point their finger, and yell “Bang!” and lie down like they’ve been shot no matter what the school authorities say, so unfortunatly I can’t blame my allegedly violent political views or my involvementin Afghanistan on playing with Army Men in 1970. Too bad.

The other side had them too….

I note that one of the console game companies came out with a video game that uses our old 3-D plastic soldiers in a 2-D world (“Army Men”). There was even a Cold War expansion game.

Of course when you turn the flamethrower on them in the game they melt….just like our 3-D ones did if subjected to a Bic lighter. Or homemade napalm to simulate a nuclear weapon (the plastic M47 and M48 tanks melted too).

Post-Cold War update: In the UN-soaked 1990s I saw that one of the Hong Kong companies took the old toy soldier set and used blue plastic in them and packaged them as “UN peacekeepers.” That didn’t last long, just like UN peacekeeping didn’t. Now we have toy soldiers that include Somlia ‘technicals’ and Al Qaeda fighters….. I guess attaching a firecracker to them to make them suicide bombers would be more realistic now…

Rhetorical Question: what would happen today if a kid brought an Al Qaeda toy to school….full circle? (For the best take on how Army Men were employed during the Cold War, see The Army Men Homepage. Quote of the day: “A toy soldier is not necessarily an Army Man.”) See also “Remembering the Sixties” for a romp through that era (and thanks for the Marx M46 pic!)


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